"Assisting patrons in discovering their roots or family heritage is a new concept for visitors centers." — Verdis Norton
PARK CITY, Utah — Stroll up Main Street here with its picturesque, narrow 1880s mining town storefronts, and you will find, just past the specialty shops and across the street from a colorful cafe, a wood and rock-faced building called the "Family Tree Center."
Belying its previous-century setting, this building houses an innovative new Church visitors center. This is the first visitors center that focuses on a family history theme. Also unusual is its location on Main Street in this ski community, about 25 miles east of Salt Lake City.
The center provides a Church presence in a heavily visited area, a skiing haven for tourists from all over the world. Park City is also one of the prime sites for the next Winter Olympics. With a population of about 16,000, Park City is expected to play host to as many as 75,000 people during the 2002 Olympic games.
Inside the door, a visitor sees a tree growing up through the floor from below and spreading its branches along a good part of the ceiling. This tree, one quickly notices, has faces showing through its rough bark, family faces to be sure, and beyond the tree are displays to enhance one's interest in family and forebears. A painting of the Savior takes the place of the Christus statue that stands in some other visitors centers. Visitors are also referred to Temple Square through a backlit picture of the Salt Lake Temple.
"This is probably the smallest visitors center in the Church," said Verdis Norton, a Park City resident who has been called as director of the center. "But my feeling is that some of the best attractions the Church has developed in visitors centers have been brought here and adopted. Assisting patrons in discovering their roots or family heritage is a new concept for visitors centers."
Some of those "best attractions" of the Family Tree Center include a hands-on interactive video designed for children and an interactive video station that replays the Church's Homefront promotions. Speaker cones projecting down from the ceiling will allow one visitor to hear a recorded message while another a few feet away can engage in normal conversation without being disturbed. In the basement there are FamilySearch computers to help their parents find their ancestors. A wall-sized mural of a representative family pedigree chart reaches back to A.D. 1000. Accompanying the chart are appropriate paintings of the prominent forebears.
The diminutive size of the center — it is only 20 feet wide and 50 feet long — has one advantage, said Brother Norton. The center has a more intimate atmosphere than larger centers, and it fits nicely into the Park City atmosphere. If the need arises, the center can be expanded into the top two floors, said Brother Norton. Visitors who take a serious, ongoing interest in family history will be referred to the family history center at the nearby Park City Utah Stake center, to the Family History Library at Church headquarters, or a family history center near their homes.
The center will be staffed with full-time sister missionaries from Temple Square and local couples, residents of Park City.
"The stake members are excited about the visitors center," said Brother Norton, saying that those approached willingly accepted callings to serve as hosts at the center. Local residents are used as hosts "to continue the Park City feeling," said Brother Norton. "Park City is one of the few places in northern Utah where Church membership is a minority. But there is a very high level of interest in the Family Tree Center, and the Church is still a strong part of the Park City heritage."
He said the center would take an informational, soft approach to introducing people to the gospel. Hosts will try to accommodate the interests of the visitors, but the underlying theme will be the emphasis on the importance of the family.
He also noted that "early acceptance and reaction to the center has been very positive."